Blair bows out but what will change?

News & Politics
This guest post from Gary Younge originally appeared in the Nation.

The process of the handover from Prime Minister Tony Blair to Chancellor Gordon Brown has long been scripted. Act I began with the thrashed local elections -- Labour lost councils all over the country and the Scottish National Party became the largest party in the Scottish Parliament. Brown wanted Blair to take responsibility for that.

Act II was Blair's announcement this morning that he will step down June 27. Act III will be Blair's endorsement of his rival, nemesis and next-door neighbour, which should take place some time tomorrow. And Act IV will be Brown's coronation in the summer.

The fact that it was written so far in advance gives some indication of how much the British people have been excluded from the whole process. This is no morality play. The rivalry between the two men has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with personal ambition -- the denouement of a decade of midlife crisis played out on the international stage. This morning was the decisive moment because now there can be no turning back.

Blair is the first British leader to leave without having been ousted by his own party or the voters. In truth, he jumped before he was pushed. Iraq alienated him from his Labour base while a new generation of Tory leader started to win back disaffected Conservatives and woo the center. He had become a liability.

But Brown will inherit a tarnished crown. The local election results bear witness to a deep-seated disaffection among the electorate. Interest rates are going up. Iraq is not going away. The electorate want a change in policies. Instead they are getting a change in personnel. The best thing Brown could do is withdraw British troops from Iraq immediately. That would establish a break with the past and be a popular move. It is also unlikely.

The best thing that the Labour party could do is produce a viable candidate with an alternative, progressive agenda to challenge Brown's ascendancy. This is also unlikely.

With its democratic levers broken and what is left of its membership utterly depressed the party has become not a place of ideas but an electoral machine -- much like the Democrats.

So the actors change but the narrative trajectory remains the same -- a long-scripted and long-running tragedy.

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